“How to Give Your Partner Space Without Resorting to ‘Mommy Time’ or ‘Daddy Time’” originally appeared on The Fatherly Forum, and was reprinted with permission.
When I go out to get a coffee or a manicure on a weekend while my husband stays at home with the kids to make pizza dough or go to a playground, some might refer to this as me having some “Mommy Time” to myself. But if I stay home with the kids while my husband goes on a run, or to meet a friend for a late night drink after the kids have gone to bed, no one refers to him taking “Daddy Time.” It’s just this normal thing called “My Husband Is Going Out to Go About His Normal Business.”
This is not to say that dads do not need time to themselves, too. Of course they do. Everyone needs time. In fact, the term Mommy Time implies that dads don’t ever need time off because they’re never really on duty anyway. And for most of the awesome dads I know, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
So I’d like to do away with Mommy Time. Mommy Time is one of those cutesy, vomit-inducing concepts that belong in a stinking garbage heap right alongside its patronizing cosmo-guzzling little sister, Girls Night. Mommy Time is couched in the patriarchal belief that time is a gift given parsimoniously and selectively by men to their partners, but only when they really deserve it, and only when they’ve really reached their Mom Limit and could use a Mommy Timeout lest mom starts going mental on the family and doing weird shit like forgetting to pack school lunches and withholding sex.
My husband and I do not do Mommy Time or Daddy Time, or any kind of time that is hinged to a particular parent or gender. We give each other breaks from the kids often and liberally, and we make sure to do it well before the other person is on the verge of a mental breakdown. This was not something that came naturally to us from the start, however. It took us a couple of years to get the hang of it, but with two kids under our belt and five years of parenting them together, we’ve figured out what works for us.
The first step for my husband and I in acquiring some “time” was identifying what it was we needed from the time itself. After I became a parent, there were really two things that stuck out as being the most important for me to have time-wise on weekends: a little extra sleep and time to tidy and organize the house before I started my day. I’m one of those people who just needs more sleep than most, and so, I’m a better person when I’ve slept eight hours. Also, I cannot function if there are dishes in the sink or crumbs on the floor.
For my husband, “time” on weekends was time to go to the gym or for a run. If he gets 45 minutes to workout, he feels great. I can tell his whole mood is better for it after it. Our kids feel it too. So it is important to me that I give him his time, and I make it a priority in the day so that it happens that he can make it to the gym either before we leave the house or when we come back from our activities.
Back when our first son was wee, we didn’t ask each other for the things we needed. We took them, and hoped that the other person either wouldn’t notice or wouldn’t resent us for it too much. I would sleep in on weekends and my husband would grumble about the late starts to our day because I couldn’t get myself out of the house ’til noon. And later, my husband would suddenly appear at the door dressed in gym shorts and sneakers right when I was about to do dinner and bath and bed (the hardest part of the day with a baby!) and announce he was headed for a run. This old strategy of acquiring time was what I now refer to as the “passive ask” which is when a person attempts to get her needs met at the expense of someone else without having an explicit conversation about it first, thus resulting in resentment and confusion in both parties. It didn’t work out that well.
I don’t need Mommy Time. I need my husband to listen to my particular needs of the moment and help me line up whatever needs lining up so that I can help meet them. He needs me to do the same for him. Time is one of the most thoughtful expressions of love we can give each other in our partnership as parents. Sometimes it is the unexpected pockets of time that are the sweetest gifts: “Why don’t you go meet up with your sister for a bit? I want to take the boys to see the boats. We’ll meet up with you in an hour.” Or, “You haven’t seen your buddy Tom in a while. You guys should grab a drink while I do dinner.”
Sometimes we don’t need the time after all. Sometimes we turn down the offer to walk away from the hectic dinner hour, the too-loud, too-messy bath time when the kids decide to do cannonballs off the ledge of the bathtub. Sometimes we don’t mind just being together. You know, Family Time.
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